For those who have been wanting to learn more about Japanese culture, read our feature of this week’s entrepreneur, Rawa Rauf, the founder of Raftel Manga Store in Sulaimani!
Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?
My name is Rawa, and I grew up in Sulaimani. I attended Salahaddin Ayyubi High School College and then entered Architectural Engineering college which I recently graduated from. Since I was younger, I have had a strong love for tech, games and books. While I was still in high school, I came across a DVD set of a popular anime show (Japanese animations) called "Dragon Ball Z," and since then I became a big fan of the medium and got myself deep into the culture of Japan, especially the pop culture and anime.
What is your business idea?
My idea was to bring the most out of Japan's pop culture into Sulaimani, and eventually all the country. I started out with the anime series, and later, manga books (Japanese comic books). I realized the demand was high and increasing at an exponential rate, so I began to think how to fill that demand. That is where I came to know Five One Labs, who kindly supported me with a business-friendly ecosystem and wide network, including introducing me to my mentor, Chris, who has given me the largest push ever since!
What challenges is your business addressing?
There are a few different challenges which I would love to mention. The first is that manga books were not available locally. One had to use online services to order them, which would take a lot of time and effort. Additionally, there are a lot of trust issues, especially with websites like Ebay, which people are afraid to buy stuff from.
Secondly, there was a lack of a community, which made it almost hard for people to get together and discuss their favorite titles! Now people come in groups and start giving recommendations and engaging in the interesting conversations in the store.
Can you tell us about your experience starting your business?
I started small, and slowly began building my capital. I have had countless problems regarding getting the goods I offer, and various delivery problems with different local and international delivery companies, but I have always been able to find a way out and continued to grow! I have met with manga store owners in Baghdad to build relations. And I have been working on holding comikets (comic markets) in Sulaimani and Erbil to boost awareness of Japanese culture.
Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?
I have always worked hard by myself, without getting myself or my business exposed to the business world. I was wondering if ever others are interested in this niche business of mine because after all, it has a very specific audience. Neither our country nor the culture supports it in a big way.
I filled out the Five One Labs application without expecting to get accepted, but I got the call all too suddenly from Miss Alice and was so thrilled. At last I could meet with other people with entrepreneurial minds, and they might understand my business! I got from it more than I ever imagined. To say it changed my life whole would not be a lie. I joined to find the right people to guide me along the right path! And I'm so glad I joined.
What progress have you made on your business since joining the incubator?
I did market research all over and found out about my customers up close. I started tracking my sales and expenses, and the increased sales weeks after week made me all the more eager to do my best. Five One Labs has kindly provided me with comfortable shared office spaces, which is a big improvement over my previous place. I tried increasing the variety of products and brought Korean song albums (known as K-Pop), and I partnered with Zanyar Bookshop to sell my manga. The demand is surprisingly high there as well. Last but not least, I have opened up membership plans for those who wants to read but aren't interested in collecting, so they can read several titles for the price of one each month.
What advice do you have for someone trying to start their own project/business?
Stick to your values and whatever you're set to accomplish. Family and friends may become great supporters, but they can never make up for the happiness in living your life the way you truly want!
Believe in yourself and your projects!
Be Willing to Act! Start Now!
You can. You will!